Cooking Challenge: Organ Meat

Mushroom and Liver Meat Sauce Spaghetti

Recently, my husband gave me one of the best compliments I might have ever heard: “You’ve made a believer out of me that healthy food can be delicious.” Mission accomplished! This healthy diet has been a challenge at times, especially for my husband. I am so grateful for his willingness to try new things, but there are some items that are just off the table for him, literally. A couple of weeks ago, I (secretly) incorporated a particular item into one of his favorite dishes just to see if he would notice. Guess what? He didn’t  🙂

Comparing recipes of the generations before us to what we eat today, there’s one big difference that stands out to me: organ meat. Just look at the old cookbook your grandma still has on her bookshelf and you’ll find a recipes for liver and onions, fish head soup and gizzard gravy. Native Americans always made sure to use and eat the entire buffalo. Some of the most exquisite restaurants are known for their unique use of organ meats as Anthony Bourdain explores in his tv show No Reservations. And liver pate is a staple to many European diets, but a rarity here. While the thought of eating tongue or brains might disgust you (it does me!!), there’s a lot to be said for the nutrition they provide.

As Dr. Cate points out in Deep Nutrition, “offal meats are rich in vitamins, especially the fat-soluble vitamins, which can be stored in our fat reserves for months.” It’s why she names it as one of the four pillars. Our livers keep the excess vitamins and minerals on store for when they are needed in the future. Eating a healthy liver helps your liver be healthy. Liver is dense in nutrients, providing one of the best food sources of Vitamin A, B and C, beating out or matching the levels that a same size serving of dark leafy vegetables can provide (a regular chicken breast sure won’t do that). Eating the eyes in fish head soup will provide lutein for your eye health. And the fatty acids in brain and nervous tissues help build your brain. And many of these contain high amounts of omega-3’s, which are good for your heart. Dr. Cate recommends eating organ meat at least once a week, so although I was highly skeptical, I figured I could try it, at least once. I bought some calf liver at the store – good news, it’s pretty cheap… I guess because no one wants it – and brought it home to try and work some magic. It turned out delicious, so if I’ve convinced you too to try organ meat, here’s an easy way to start: Mushroom & Liver Meat Sauce Spaghetti.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound organic, pasture raised ground beef
  • 1/2 cup organic, pasture raised calf liver
  • 1 container sliced baby bella mushrooms (optional)
  • homemade or store-bought organic marinara
  • organic quinoa pasta (or spaghetti squash for carb free)

Liver & Beef

I put the liver in a food processor and ground it up, then mixed it in with the ground beef and browned in a saute pan on medium heat.  I seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, as always.  Meanwhile, I sauteed the mushrooms in another pan in butter and boiled the pasta. 

Saute mushrooms and meat

Once everything was cooked, I put the meat, mushrooms and sauce together in a pan to mix and warm the sauce.  To serve, I put some pasta in each bowl and covered with the sauce.  This was so hearty and delicious! I promise that if you like spaghetti, you will love it.  

 Do you think this is a recipe you could try?

Fabulous Fermentation Week – Kombucha Home-Brew

Kombucha Bottles

In the healthy food blogosphere, this week is known as “Fabulous Fermentation Week” and I thought this would be the perfect time to share my recent experimentation with fermentation and all benefits it has to offer!  When you think of fermented foods, mostly likely only pickles and sauerkraut come to mind, but actually many of our favorite foods & drinks were created through fermentation – wine, beer, coffee, yogurt, cheese and chocolate.  It’s a process discovered thousands of years ago, probably by chance, as a preservation method that happened to add nutrients in the process; it has provided profound health benefits to humans for generations.  Defined by Webster’s Dictionary, fermentation is “an enzymatically controlled transformation of an organic compound.”  Dr. Cate describes it best in Deep Nutrition – “With an arsenal of enzymes, microbes can break down toxins that might otherwise sicken or kill us outright, turn simple sugars into complex nutrients, make vitamins our diets might otherwise lack (such as K2 and B12), and wage chemical warfare on would-be pathogens.”

One main benefit to fermentation is that it produces live cultures with good bacteria – probiotics – that work with our immune system to fight the bad bacteria – pathogens – that attack our system and cause allergies, autoimmune diseases & inflammation.  Many of us are consistently lacking enough probiotics in our system, and therefore have poor-functioning immune systems – story of my (former) life.  By incorporating probiotics into your diet, you’ll quickly see great changes to your digestive system.  Whenever I have an upset stomach, I go straight for pickles or kombucha (before you ask – no, they’re not pregnancy cravings) to feel better fast. Probiotics are also really essential when you are taking antibiotics.  Antibiotics kill bacteria with no discretion – the good and the bad.  Without replenishing the good kind, you are compromising your immune system even more, opening yourself up to more infection (and yet I’ve never had a doctor tell me that).

While you can certainly take pricey probiotic supplements to boost your system, you could also start eating fermented foods like (raw, unpasteurized) yogurt, real (no preservatives) pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut OR by drinking delicious kombucha.  For those of you who have never heard of it – kombucha is a probiotic-rich, fruity, naturally carbonated beverage that you can find in lots of different flavors at your local grocery or health foods store.  It’s a great substitution for those of you who are addicted to soda, and you can even use it as a cocktail mixer – I tried some gin in a ginger-blueberry kombucha last week and it was pretty awesome.  What you might discover is that it’s also pretty expensive – around $3-4 per bottle.  I had always heard that it was easy and cheap to make it at home, so I decided to try it. And wow, definitely lived up to that promise.  The hands on time for this was maybe only 20 minutes spread out over 2 weeks. Some of the fermentation processes are a little gross, but nothing that you can’t handle!

I started with an organic home-brew starter kit from Kombucha Brooklyn.  However, all you really need to get started is a 1 Gallon glass jar, which you could find at a local beer home-brew store, a piece of cotton & rubber band, and then some organic unflavored tea and cane sugar. What makes the magic happen is something called a SCOBY – symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast – which is basically a strange, disc looking thing you put in your jar of sweet tea and let ferment.  You can get a SCOBY online, in the starter kit, or, if you live in Austin, I can give you one from one of my batches! Once you start with one, each batch will produce another so that you can continue brewing and never buy again.

First, you boil 4 cups of filtered water.  Take off the heat and add 6 organic, unflavored black or white tea bags.  Let steep for around 20 minutes, then add 1 cup of organic cane sugar and stir.  Once dissolved, add 8 cups of cold, filtered water and pour into your one gallon jar.  After that, you simply add the SCOBY with 1.5 cups of kombucha liquid from your last batch (or that the SCOBY comes in). Cover with the cloth and rubber band and then put into a warm, dark place where it can breathe – as long as you don’t keep your house super cold, it’s fine anywhere but your pantry or by a window. Let sit for around 2 weeks and watch a new SCOBY grow  as your kombucha ferments. After that amount of time, taste your kombucha to see if you like it… taste will tell you when it’s done (I like mine sweet, rather than sour).  When done, simply take out the SCOBYs and set them aside with 1.5 cups of the liquid.  Pour the tea into bottles – I used 6 old 16oz bottles I had saved.  If you want to add a flavor,  you must do it after fermentation, during the bottling process.  I used dried mango, raspberries and ginger & blueberries for 3 different kinds.  Once in your bottles, put the lids on tight and let sit out of the fridge for 3-5 days so that it will carbonate.  After that, refrigerate and enjoy your refreshing & healthy beverages!

*If you’ve never tried Kombucha before, I recommend you go to the store now and buy some! Austin’s local Buddha’s Brew is the sweetest, so it’s a good starting point to get used to the flavor – the honeydew flavor is my absolute favorite.

What’s your favorite fermented food or drink?  Have you ever tried kombucha?

For more fermented food recipes, you can find the participants in Fabulous Fermentation Week at My New Roots.

A Whole Chicken for Your Nest Egg: Bone Broth

Crockpot Bone Broth

We typically think of cooking an animal only for its meat, but we’re missing some of the best part!  French culinary masters consider stock/bone-broth to be a kitchen essential in flavoring soups, rice, sauce, gravy, and much more. Our ancestors survived on hearty broth made from bones, especially during the winter when fresh food was hard to come by – our bodies have gotten used to the nutrients that animal bones provide and depend on them to grow, repair and function.  This is just one of the many reasons I’m not a vegan.

Animal bones (and the marrow) contain a protein molecule called glucosamine.  Glucosamine, the main ingredient in arthritis meds and joint supplements, helps build and repair joints and also triggers the growth of new collagen. Collagen provides structural support for our bones, tendons and ligaments, and gives our skin shape, texture and youthfulness. While collagen injections may make the Real Housewives’ lips temporarily plump, consistent regeneration of the collagen in your skin, hair, bones, arteries and more can only come from making it part of your diet. I don’t know about you, but as I age, I want to look and feel young… here’s to a retirement full of active travel and less wrinkles! The good news is that natural collagen and glucosamine are an easy and tasty addition to your diet, and will not only help prevent issues, but also rebuild and repair. By simply simmering the nutrients out of the bones, joints and cartilage slowly, you are able to safely extract the minerals and vitamins (magnesium, vitamin D & calcium), as opposed to the high-heat damaging methods used in making glucosamine pills.

So here’s how I make my weekly bone broth: After I cook my whole chicken, I put the bones back in my crockpot, along with 8 cups of filtered water. I roughly chop any mix of the following to add to the pot: onion, celery, beet greens, carrots, garlic, leek or fresh herbs. You can also add a couple tablespoons of white wine or apple cider vinegar, as the acid in those liquids helps get more minerals from the bones.

Bones + Veggies in Crockpot

Simmer on low for around 4 hours.

Broth after 4 hours of simmering in crockpot

Then strain and transfer to a BPA-free container.  Use within a couple of days from the fridge, or store in the freezer.

Broth

You can use it in any recipe that calls for chicken broth, as a soup or gravy base, to replace water when making rice delicious or drink by itself. And of course, you can do the same with beef bones or fish bones for different broth flavors.  Considering how expensive a container of broth costs, this is a great deal – plus, no chemical preservatives or flavor additives!

A special tip for dog owner’s: I sometimes add a little broth to my puppy’s food to help her joints and she loves it! But, be sure not to use any onion in that batch as it is toxic to dogs).

Sources: Wikipedia searches of collagen & glucosamine and, of course, Deep Nutrition.

A Whole Chicken for Your Nest Egg (Part 1)

Whole Cooked Chicken

Looking for a way to save a little money each week?  Did you know that you can buy a whole chicken at the grocery store for almost half the price per pound that you can buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts?  Since we eat chicken more than any other meat in our home, this is a great deal for our budget.  Plus, you can get WAY more nutrients & meals out of a whole chicken with the skin and bones still attached.  More for less?  I don’t see a downside here…

As I’ve mentioned before, slow-cooking meat on the bone is a tradition for a reason. You need only taste some delicious BBQ ribs that have been on the smoker for 10+ hours or the juicy Thanksgiving turkey that Grandma has been basting all day.  So, why is it that meat tastes better when cooked this way?  Nutrients take time and moisture to be released.  When you overcook meat, it becomes tough because the fat, protein and sugar within the meat get fused during the heating process and destroy the nutrients, causing reactions between them that form carcinogens. You can avoid this by making sure your meat stays moisturized during cooking (basting, slow cooking, stews, pressure cooking).  The water molecules tenderize the tough proteins and keep them from fusing together. They also work at the connective tissue in the cartilage, skin, bone and ligaments to release molecules that help our joints and minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, etc.  The great taste comes from the itty bitty peptides that are formed as water molecules chop the proteins small enough to fit our taste buds.  Need one more reason to keep the skin on? The fat sits right underneath the skin in birds – fat gives us energy, helps our cells rebuild and allows us to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. This natural, healthy fat is different than sugar in that it doesn’t cause an insulin release (hello weight gain). However, it’s important that you buy organic meat; because pesticides on the plants animals eat accumulate in their fat, you need to buy organic to avoid these chemicals (and much more).

Each week, I buy a whole, organic chicken (remove and save giblets).  I usually season with salt and pepper and some fresh herbs, but you can find recipes online for adding other ingredients for different flavors.

Seasoned raw chicken in crockpot

I put it in my crockpot on low for around 4 hours (it depends on your crockpot temp so basically until meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees).  After letting it cool a bit, I take the meat off the bones. You can find YouTube videos showing you how if you’ve never done it before – I promise it’s easy and not as gross as it seems. And just look at how much meat I have for the week:

Cooked Chicken

Now, I always have this ready to go for quick meals – add some fresh veggies, put it in a salad or add to a soup. The actual hands-on time is only 5 minutes to start and then 10 to take the meat off the bones. I save the bones and put them right back in the crockpot.  In part two, I’ll explain how the bones give us even more nutrients and help create a staple of culinary technique.

Note: If you typically don’t like dark meat (like my hubby), try using those pieces in soups or other dishes, instead of by themselves.  I’ll admit I always hated dark meat until I started using organic meat – it doesn’t seem to have the same type of fatty texture that’s always disgusted me in the past.  Try it and see what you think!

Source: I simplified the scientific process of hydrolytic cleavage, or hydrolysis.  You can learn more about it online or from Deep Nutrition.